Chosen by Simon Barker, Head of Department, English and Creative Writing, University of Chichester (text by Holly Wright)
This 1818 watercolour of the house in Bayeux is poignant and significant. Bray was newly married to her first husband Charles Alfred Stothard who had been commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries to undertake drawings of the Bayeux Tapestry. He was to die in an accident just three years later, but her Letters Written during a Tour in Normandy, Brittany, and other Parts of France (1820) was the beginning of a considerable career. As WSRO’s Holly Wright has remarked, this publication ‘established her as a writer and enabled her to progress into the literary circles of her day’. The archive is an astonishing record of literary achievement for a woman whose life and work deserve recognition and it is pleasing to see how the Record Office has helped secure Mrs Bray’s name for generations to come.
Anna Eliza Bray (formerly Stothard, neé Kempe) was an author of historical novels and West Country legend and folklore, as well as travel writings and biographies of several notable figures. She was born on 25th December 1790 in Newington, Surrey and died on 21st January 1883 in London. A few years after her first husband’s death, she married the vicar of Tavistock Church, Rev. Edward Atkyns Bray, and moved to Devon. This is where she achieved most of her popular works, including The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, a descriptive account of the history, customs and folklore of West Devon and a well-received 10-volume set of historical romance novels. After her husband’s death in 1857, she moved back to London and continued to write well into the 1870s, as well as editing and publishing her late husband’s poems and sermons.
She was closely acquainted with many great figures from the literary and artistic worlds of her day, most notably her father-in-law from her first marriage, the Royal Academy artist Thomas Stothard, the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, his second wife Caroline and two of Southey’s children, Charles Cuthbert Southey and Edith May Warter, the latter who lived in West Tarring, Sussex with her husband Rev. John Wood Warter. Bray corresponded with the celebrated Regency poets Amelia Opie and Letitia Elizabeth Landon (letters from Landon survive in her archive) and had her work published by John Murray. She also came from the illustrious Kempe family: the distinguished artist George Stubbs was a lifelong friend of her father and grandfather, and her brother, Alfred John Kempe, was an antiquarian and fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
The Record Office holds many documents and archives of literary personalities, from William Hayley to Edmund Blunden, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Sheila Kaye-Smith. Literary archives can shed much light on both the personal and professional lives of authors and poets and often contain a variety of different types of documents, including letters, diaries, draft manuscripts, printed books, artwork and more obscure
items such as locks of hair: Bray’s archive can boast of three locks of hair belonging to the Poet Laureate and Romantic figure Robert Southey and his second wife Caroline. The archive also contains over 100 letters from Caroline Southey, with whom Mrs Bray was first acquainted in 1840 and regularly corresponded with until Mrs Southey’s death in 1854. There is also ‘Mrs Southey’s Narrative’, a biographical piece written by Caroline Southey in 1840 regarding her courtship and marriage to Robert Southey, copied by Mrs Bray’s niece from the original manuscript.
Find out more about the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester here.